Reinforcement directs most everything we do in our daily lives without us giving much thought to it and, in addition to being an Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) for children with Autism, it is undeniably one of the most important principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
So, what is reinforcement? It is an event, activity, or other circumstance occurring after a learner engages in a desired behavior that leads to the increased occurrence of the behavior in the future.
Today I will be focusing on the most popular method of reinforcement used in ABA therapy, ‘Positive Reinforcement.’ Positive Reinforcement is when, after a behavior occurs, you add something to the environment in order to increase the likelihood of that behavior happening again in the future.
Simon often plays alone at school. His therapist starts giving him a skittle whenever he asks a friend to play. Simon now asks a friend to play every day at school.
Julia refuses to sit at the table when it’s time for therapy. Her therapist starts bringing in fun light up toys that Julia gets to play with for a few minutes after coming to the table for the therapy. Julia will now willingly come and sit at the table when it’s time for therapy.
Often times children with autism are not driven to learn by intrinsic rewards, such as the interest pleasing their therapist. Instead, it is the job of the RBT to motivate their clients to learn by providing external rewards, such as a lots and lots of tickles, praise and fun toys following a desired behavior to increase that behavior.
Ahhhh rewards….Every great Autism Therapist comes to work ready with their ‘bag of tricks’. Here are some fun ideas and tips for reinforcers!
Edibles– With permission from your BCBA Supervisor and the caregivers of your client, FOOD should be included in your bag. Fun snack foods that you know your client likes to eat and doesn’t get to eat all of the time are a strong reinforcer that should be used when learning new skills and skills that are very challenging for your client.
Tangibles– TOYS, TOYS, TOYS. Light up toys, toys that make noise and toys with moving parts are all favorites of not just children with autism, but all kids. To save money, these toys can be purchased second hand at thrift stores and garage sales for cheap. You can also fill your bag with toys easily made at home such as slime, bubbles, sensory bottles, dress up scarves or even just a cup of beans to pour.
Verbal– These are reinforcers that come out of your mouth, no tools required. Verbal reinforcers are praises, such as saying “Way to go!” and “You’re awesome!” when your client gives you a correct response or is demonstrating improved behavior. Use expression in your face and make silly noises if you want. Just remember, there are so, so, so many praises that you can use beyond the words “Good job.” Don’t get stuck in a rut by repeating the same praise over and over again as it will lose its reinforcing quality fast.
Social– This is all about making yourself reinforcing. Anything as simple as giving your client a hug, tickles, a high five or thumbs up when they are learning and listening to instructions is a social reinforcer. You can also make this more elaborate by giving your client a ‘Chair Ride’ by rotating it back and forth, tilting it and pretending there is an earthquake happening in their chair. Or play ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ by sitting on the ground across from your client with legs criss-crossed, holding hands and rocking back and forth while singing the song. Another idea is to play ‘Snoring Monster,’ this is done by pretending you’ve fallen asleep snoring, then wake up suddenly, roaring and clobber your client with tickles.
Our kiddos work hard and they work hard every day. It’s our job not only to help them master goals, but to make their learning fun!